How Ready is Your Organization to Adapt?

We’ve talked at length about the uncertainty that has surrounded us all for longer than we care to remember. This uncertainty has manifested itself in the workforce in countless ways, including high rates of absenteeism, massive supply chain issues, and increased instances of employee burnout. We’ve also talked about what it takes to get through these challenging times. In fact, the words “resilience” and “adaptability” have become as much a part of our vocabulary as “masks” and “Zoom.”

Yet, while we understand theoretically that we need to shift and transition, many continue to resist change. They’d rather stay in their comfort zones, regardless of the fact that no growth can occur there. Let’s face it – it’s not easy to jump off the crisis mode wheel, even with its high level of stress and burnout. It’s what we know, so we resist anything else. But the time for resistance is over.

It’s time to embrace change, understanding it is where opportunities and innovation thrive. It may not always be easy, but it must be done. And it takes transformation, work, and most of all, adaptability. According to research conducted by McKinsey & Company, “[A]daptability is the critical success factor during periods of transformation and systemic change. It allows us to be faster and better at learning, and it orients us toward the opportunities ahead, not just the challenges.”

All Encompassing Change … and Adaptability

When we look at an organization’s capacity to adapt, it’s not a singular level view. The unprecedented change we’ve been experiencing penetrates each level, department, and person in the organization. Even when we think it’s a “minor change,” it isn’t. Ramifications exist that we could never imagine. For example, when the pandemic hit, airlines, like all industries, had to make adjustments quickly. They had to figure out how to get people flying again. After much research and many consumer studies, Delta was one of the first to decide to block the middle seats of their aircrafts.

While that seems like a fairly simple change from the outside, what we didn’t see was all of the behind-the-scenes changes that had to occur for it to be implemented. What we didn’t see was the shifts throughout the entire organization ranging from ticketing to the number of planes needed to changing online technology. Those shifts could only occur in an organization that embraced adaptability.

So, in this ever-evolving business landscape, the question is – how ready is your organization to adapt?

According to an article in Harvard Business Review, there are nine elements of change power to help companies thrive throughout change. Organizations should evaluate their strengths and weaknesses in each to determine their capacity for change.

  1. Purpose: Creates a sense of belonging; guides decisions and inspires action
  2. Direction: Translates your purpose into a plan; clarifies where you are going and how to get there
  3. Connection: Taps into the social side of change; creates networks of influencers and fans
  4. Capacity: Defines the limits of change; allows you to absorb more change
  5. Choreography: Helps you be more dynamic; adjusts change priorities and sequences moves
  6. Scaling: Creates a virtuous cycle; spreads innovation and amplifies impact
  7. Development: Prepares you for growth; builds learning and change capability
  8. Action: Builds momentum; fosters a can-do mindset and a bias for change
  9. Flexibility: Helps you stay in front of change; redefines how you work and even what work is


Based on those nine elements, the same article discussed four general archetypes when it comes to organizations and their capacity for change. The first archetype they identified is “In Search of Focus.” This group is busy and always on the move. But too many distractions result in diluted priorities and a lack of focus. Leaders should prioritize the big picture, connecting company activities to purpose and strategy.

The second archetype is “Stuck and Skeptical.” This group knows they need to make a change. It is clear to them that what they are doing is not working. Yet, they are skeptical about transformations and question their value. Leaders should reignite the enthusiasm and energy of the team by boosting confidence in their success.

The third archetype is “Aligned but Constrained,” where everyone is aligned in purpose and vision, but there are barriers. Leaders must identify the capacity bottlenecks and work together to solve them, realigning priorities and reallocating resources, as needed.

Finally, the fourth is “Struggling to Keep Up.” Team members get weary and check out because they don’t have the confidence that they can solve any problems. Mistrust is created with the inability to anticipate what’s coming next. Like “Aligned but Constrained,” this requires reprioritization and reallocation resources.


Where does your organization fit in?

Leaders should look comprehensively at the nine elements and examine each team member’s strengths and weaknesses in that category. Collectively, the data will begin to uncover the organization’s readiness for adaptability and provide an opportunity to understand its willingness for change. Ensuring that the team sees how they fit into this change is key. If they can’t, they will have a fight (bring conflict) or flight (check out) response. Instead, leaders must find a way to unite them with a common change purpose. Remind them that you were able to pivot once when you were forced to do so. Then talk about what else you can learn from that experience, not from a reactionary perspective, but an anticipatory one. Take it slow … and small. Remember tiny tremors eventually lead up to massive transformations.

Change is our constant reality. And how good we become at adapting to it will define our future levels of success. Adaptability requires leadership, discipline, and accountability, shifting the organization from quick emergency fixes to long-term systemic changes.

Remember, don’t do what you’ve always done because you’ll always get what you got. Let’s go get it. Let’s go win.

To hear more about this topic and others from Crystal Davis, go to https://pod.co/lead-lean

March 14, 2022

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